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The Great Decisions of Your Life
Every day we make decisions. We decide what we will wear, what we will eat and what we will do. There are little decisions and big decisions. Perhaps, for most people, the biggest decisions are about marriage (whether to marry and whom to marry) and those relating to work.
But these decisions pale into insignificance beside the great decision. The great decision is how we respond to God. Bernard Levin, perhaps the most influential Times columnist of the second half of the twentieth century, described his experience of trying to decide about the Christian faith in these terms: ‘People such as me who hover on the edge of the swimming pool, simultaneously longing and fearing to jump …’
All the way through the Bible the importance of this decision is stressed. We can see it, for example, in each of today’s passages. There is a division between those who are far and those who are near (Psalm 119). There is a division between those who hear the gospel and respond with faith and those who do not combine it with faith (Hebrews 4:2). In the passage from Joel there is a division between those who call on the name of the Lord and those who do not (Joel 2:32).
Joel goes on to say, ‘Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision’ (Joel 3:14).
1. Decide to meet first with GodPsalm 119:145–152
I love this verse: ‘I rise before dawn and cry for help’ (v.147). Thirty years ago I wrote next to it in my Bible, ‘How vital it is to meet with the Lord before the day starts – “before dawn”. From now on I intend always to read and pray immediately when I get up in order to be prepared for the battles each day brings.’ I have not always succeeded in doing this. However, that decision has made a huge difference to my life.
There is a distinction, according to the psalmist, between those who are far from God and those who are near to him. The psalmist writes, ‘Those who devise wicked schemes are near, but they are far from your law. Yet you are near, O Lord’ (vv.150–151).
‘Those who devise wicked schemes’ may be near to us. Indeed, this is a common experience in life. However, the psalmist says they are far from God. But the Lord is near to us.
The psalmist has made a decision to call out to the Lord with all his heart. He writes, ‘I call with all my heart … I call out to you; save me’ (vv.145–146).
As those who are out to get him get closer and closer he is able to say: ‘But you’re the closest of all to me, God’ (v.151, MSG).
Lord, thank you that you are near when we call upon you. Thank you that we can begin the day by crying out to you for help. Today, I cry out to you for help …
2. Decide to believe God’s promisesHebrews 4:1–13
Are you experiencing ‘God’s rest’ in your life? Or are you worn out trying to control everything and everyone around you? Maybe it is time to resign as general manager of the universe and start believing God’s promises and trusting God to do what only he can do.
The way to find ‘rest’ for our souls is to listen to God’s promises, believe them and show that we believe them by living in obedience to the word of God.
Many people hear the gospel. When we hear the gospel we have to make the most important decision of our lives. Do we respond with faith and believe? Or do we respond by hardening our hearts and disobeying?
The writer of Hebrews says, ‘We received the same promises as those people in the wilderness, but the promises didn’t do them a bit of good because they didn’t receive the promises with faith’ (v.2, MSG). He urges them not to harden their hearts (v.7) or to fall through disobedience (v.11).
God’s promise to everyone who believes in the gospel is that they will enter his rest (v.1). ‘If we believe … we’ll experience that state of resting’ (v.3, MSG).
In this life, there will always be trials and testing. It is never going to be without times of turmoil. However, if we believe the gospel, we have the promise of God’s eventual and eternal rest. ‘And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God’ (v.10, MSG).
One day every human being will have to give an account before God: ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account’ (v.13).
In the meantime, we have an amazing opportunity to experience a foretaste of that ‘rest’ as we open our hearts to the word of God, for, ‘the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (v.12).
For the writer, the ‘word of God’ probably meant the Old Testament and the gospel message about how all these Scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus. But we have the benefit of the whole New Testament revelation of the gospel of Jesus in addition to the Old Testament Scriptures.
As we open ourselves to this day by day, the word of God penetrates our inner being, revealing areas of our lives (‘the thoughts and attitudes of the heart’) which we need to sort out. It penetrates like a double-edged sword. At times it may seem very painful and challenging. However, the purpose is to prepare us for entering God’s rest.
Lord, thank you for the immense power of the word of God. Help us to respond to the gospel in the right way. Keep our hearts from being hardened. Keep us from unbelief. Help us to believe your promises and to allow the word of God to penetrate our inner beings. Thank you that we can look forward to entering into an eternity of your rest. Thank you that even now we get a foretaste of that rest.
3. Decide to enjoy life in the SpiritJoel 2:18–3:21
The prophet Joel instructs the people ‘Be glad ... Rejoice in the Lord your God’ (2:23). As Joyce Meyer writes: ‘Joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. However it is released only by making the decision not to allow adverse circumstances to rule your emotional and mental attitudes. Through joy, you can receive strength to do things that would otherwise be impossible.’
God makes a remarkable promise that is recalled in the New Testament: ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (2:32, see Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13).
This comes at the end of the great prophecy that Peter quoted on the day of Pentecost: ‘And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days … And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Joel 2:28–32, see Acts 2:16–21).
Others may have discriminated against you but God does not discriminate on the basis of your age, your gender, or your situation in life. The promise of being saved and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is for everyone – male and female, young and old. For example, we see on Alpha weekends how countless people’s lives are transformed by this promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The decision of whether or not to call on the name of the Lord has far reaching implications. The New Testament makes absolutely clear that the name of the Lord is Jesus: ‘If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved ... for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” ’ (Romans 10:9, 13).
Joel promises those who do this that ‘the Lord will be a refuge for his people’ (Joel 3:16). He promises wonderful blessings. He warns that there is a winepress of God’s judgment: ‘Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow – so great is their wickedness!’ (Joel 3:13, see Mark 4:29; Matthew 13:39). The book of Revelation refers to the wine press as a description of the judgment of Jesus on the last day.
God’s hope in this passage is that the people will hear this call to decision and turn to him. ‘It’s not too late’ (2:12, MSG). The Lord will ‘take pity on his people’ (2:18). ‘I am sending you grain, new wine and oil, enough to satisfy you fully’ (v.19). He promises, ‘I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten’ (v.25). This is an amazing promise, especially for those who feel that much of their lives have been ‘devoured by locusts’.
As Joyce Meyer puts it, God promises us ‘double for our trouble’. God ‘repays’ double. He restores, redeems, renews and revives us by his Spirit. He promises, ‘In that day the mountains will drip with new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house’ (3:18).
This picture, which is similar to that in Ezekiel 47:1–12, Zechariah 14:8 and Amos 9:13 was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus who said, ‘ “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flowing from within.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive’ (John 7:37–39).
Lord, thank you that the moment we call on the name of the Lord we are saved. Thank you that you promise to restore the years the locusts have eaten. Thank you that you promise to pour out your Holy Spirit on us.
Help us to bring this wonderful good news to as many people as possible. May they call on the name of the Lord and experience the promise that out of their innermost being will flow rivers of living water. Help us to reach as many people as possible in the valley of decision.
‘I will pour out my spirit on all people.’
It's what I need today – personally and for my family, our church, our world...